New Rules Say You Must Address Language Barriers

Oct. 16, 2016, brings a new requirement for a sign to post on your practice walls, as well as a plan for fulfilling its promise. TMA’s new white paper MembersOnlyRed has all the details about accommodating your patients with limited English proficiency (LEP). 

New rules from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) lay out a compliance framework for physicians and health care providers regarding all types of discrimination, including discrimination against individuals with LEP. 

The framework, explained in detail in the new white paper from the TMA Office of General Counsel about accommodating people with limited English proficiency, includes factors to help you determine the reasonable steps you must take to provide these individuals meaningful access.

For example, what is the nature of your communication with patients who speak another language? How often do you encounter patients of a specific language? What resources are you realistically able to provide?  

In addition, you'll be required to: 

  • Post a notice of consumer rights providing information about communication assistance; and
  • Post taglines in the top 15 languages spoken by LEP individuals in Texas, indicating the availability of such assistance. The white paper lists these languages and a link to translations from HHS. 

The rules implement the nondiscrimination provision, Section 1557, of the Affordable Care Act, which prohibits discrimination against individuals on the basis of race, color, national origin (which includes limited English proficiency), sex (this includes discrimination on the basis of  gender identity), age, or disability.

Note that the new discrimination rules apply to any entity that has a health program or activity, any part of which receives federal financial assistance from HHS. HHS says most physicians will find themselves subject to Section 1557 and thus must comply with the requirements of the rules. You should consult with your legal counsel to determine the application of the rules to your particular situation.

If you have questions, contact the TMA Knowledge Center by phone at (800) 880-7955 or by email.

Action, Sept. 15, 2016